Tuesday 3 May 2016

Managing Labour's Electoral Expectations

We looked at this earlier in the year, so let's spend a little more time by the scrying pool. Managing expectations have become a political football in the interminable (and boring) tussle in the Labour Party. With forecasting subject to factional agendas, can we cut through the crap and think about what would constitute an advance and a reverse for the party and its leader? I'm going to have a try.

The key election for Labour - sorry everywhere else - is London. In the capital, Sadiq Khan and the Labour campaign have faced a barrage every bit as unpleasant as the one targeting Ed Miliband last year. The Tories and their helpful media friends have branded Sadiq an ally of terrorists because, wink, wink, he's a Muslim. And this is a deliberate strategy pushed right from the very top to secure the mayoralty for the terminally useless Zac Goldsmith. It is utterly outrageous but, thanks to the good sense of Londoners, Labour has a commanding polling lead. Fingers crossed, our vote will turn out on the day. It is highly unlikely that KenGate will have an affect on the polls, it being widely perceived as yet another barney in the bubble, but Goldsmith's dog-whistling, racist literature has been rammed down Londoners' throats. And in the country's most multicultural city that's electoral suicide. As far as Jeremy's prospects are concerned, only a win here will do. To lose again in London under these conditions would make it politically impossible for him to carry on.

This is the only result that put the leadership in jeopardy. Whatever happens elsewhere is not sufficient in and of itself. That said, the second most important set of elections after London is Wales. Oft neglected by the metropolitan set, the story here is of Labour dominance slowly getting eaten away by UKIP and, to a much lesser extent, Plaid Cymru. The last poll has Labour on 33%, Plaid on 21%, the Tories on 19%, and UKIP 15%. Yet there is a factor not yet picked up by the polls, but has certainly manifested in the local council by-elections in Wales over the last couple of months: the government's handling of Port Talbot. The debacle has seen Conservative polling plummet in the three or so Welsh by-elections taking place in that time. Now, three car crashes don't make a motorway pile up, but it's difficult to see how their very public indifference and incompetence can't but depress the Tory vote further. The question then is who benefits? While Labour has the disadvantage of incumbency, I think it's fair to say that if we cannot capitalise at all on government difficulties here that would be very disappointing, especially when polls and by-elections are not pinpointing breakthroughs for the leftish Plaid either.

There is Scotland, which may as well be written off. A number of folks, including me, thought Jeremy's leftism would be enough to begin the claw back at this set of Holyrood elections. Ha, I can laugh at my naivete now. The problem is the SNP have run a relatively competent, relatively centre left administration in Scotland for eight years and cornered the market in political vision thanks to the referendum campign. Matters weren't helped by the rotten state Scottish Labour had got itself into after years of neglect and complacency, nor selecting a leader who epitomised the old Westminster-centric way of doing things, nor seen cosying up to the Tories and conniving in their hysterical and mean-spirited attacks on the independence movement. With Labour unionism taking a battering, only a generation-long struggle of rebuilding and opposition can make it a proper contender again. And so this Thursday's verdict on Labour in Scotland doesn't spell doom for Jez or Our Kez, but delivers the final act in the electoral battering our party - truthfully - has deserved for a long time. Where it does become a problem for either of the leaders is if the Tories snatch second place. In Ruth Davidson the Tories have found a leader who combines genuine charisma (without Boris-style manufacturing) and down-to-earth personability. Alas, shame about her politics. She is their best bet for detoxification, but despite being well-liked I don't think the Tories will pull it off in votes or seats. But if they do that's one more cause for concern.

The English local elections then. Jeremy has been widely attacked for saying this lunch time that we will lose no seats. Of course, by this he means we will make net gains - not that a single council seat will be snatched away. However, there are a number of mediating factors that ensures the result, unless it is a huge disaster, will not impact on the leadership. As a general rule, Labour councillors are more pragmatic and centrist than either the left-leaning membership (even before the Jez surge) and the right-leaning parliamentary party. And this is their election. They are incumbents defending positions conquered off the back of coalition austerity, and did so running semi-independent and highly localised campaigns. Then, as now, many hundreds of candidates were convinced the leader was a liability, and then as now have doubled down on local issues. And, on the whole, you tend to find that the voting hardcore who turn out for the locals tend to have those matters in mind. As with London, KenGate barely registers, but decisions about roads, housing, services, council tax, and so on do. Labour are disadvantaged by incumbency and being in power in a disproportionate number of seats, which ordinarily makes losses likely, but this would be just as true if Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper were at the helm. But again, while the media are convulsed with Westminster parlour games the awful headlines of the preceding month about steel, about tax, about the budget and for some, the EU, could depress Tory turnout. The question then is which will matter more? My money is on the strength and focus of Labour's local campaigns in framing the issues that matter. And so I think it's fair to forecast unspectacular gains for us.

The other elections taking place are differently weighted. The two parliamentary by-elections in Ogmore and Sheffield Brightside should be pretty much in the bag for Labour, taking place in super safe seats. Losing either or coming close to failing would be a major difficulty for the leadership, but that none of the usual suspects have alighted upon them, let alone spoke about them goes to shows how unlikely a threat from that quarter is regarded. And there are the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Don't expect a record low turnout like last time as the proper electoral machinery is in place, and will be boosted by other elections. Last time, Labour barely registered outside of the metropolitan areas, and seeing that few of the electorate and the political cognoscenti care that much about them, outcomes either way won't matter much.

And so there you have it. A few predictions and some consideration of the wider ramifications sans the tedious internal partisanship. What do you think?


Metatone said...

Sounds about right to me, although I'm concerned that Brexit could boost UKIP overall and that enough incumbent councillors are vulnerable on local issues (in part due to central government cuts of local government funding). So I am still worried about the council seat situation.

And in the dark moments I fear Zac sneaking a win and British politics taking another step towards a racist politics modeled on the FN over the Channel.

jim mclean said...

Just said over on SU the Left Nationalists have sucked up all the good ones willing to go out and preach the word, pity the are preaching crap. Keza has just hang on and then totally restructure a branch system that is reminiscent of the Rotten Boroughs of English History. Labours first job is to destroy the ISG & SSP enterprise of RISE-Scotland

Phil said...

If I didn't have anything else to hold against Chris Bambery, I'd hate him for using that acronym - 'ISG' to me will always signify the good comrades of Soc Res (which I nearly joined myself at one stage). Speaking of acronyms, I was amused to discover that what's left of Solidarity is now trading as the Socialist Party Scotland or SPS, not to be confused with the SSP - couldn't they think of anything else to call themselves?

I don't think any of this matters a damn to Labour's chances, though.

Boffy said...

I am increasingly convinced that the Westminster/SPAD/media bubble is now just completely separated from the rest of the real world, and that applies to about much of the Left commentariat - a term I think applies because most of it in the various sects has also been completely separated from real life for decades.

Take this particular issue of the election predictions. As far as the media and Blair-rights is concerned its just a game whereby to try to trap Corbyn. Yesterday he was attacked for saying that Labour would not lose any seats. Actually attacked in a different way to how Dugdale has been treated for refusing to admit that Labour is not going to win in Scotland. He was attacked on the basis "This is incompetent because everyone knows that as part of the game you play down your chances of winning to manage expectations."

But, we all know that had Corbyn said, its going to be difficult, we may lose x number of seats, the same people would have attacked him for that and said "He doesn't even believe himself that Labour can do well."

Its a bit like Kengate. I'm sure that the Blair-rights and Tory media think that its going to play into their hands and sink the Labour vote so as to open the door to the palace coup they have been plotting. In the case of the Tory media that is probably as much about having something to gossip about and fill the 24 hour news channels with, as just a desire to have one of their own back in charge of the LP.

But, I'm not sure its going to work for them, any more than the Tories attempts to brand Saddiq Khan as a Muslim extremist, anti-semite is going to work either. The Blair-rights claim that people on the doorsteps are saying that unless Labour deals with the anti-semitism they will never vote Labour again. Really?

For all the years I have been involved in politics, and believe me politics also gets talked about a lot in our house, my wife who has suffered through it all for more than 40 years, said to me the other day, "What's Anti-Semitism? Its the first I've heard about it over the last few days!"

Steven said...

I live in Scotland and think second place is the most likely outcome this time.

The prognosis for the future is not good, though I think Kez has done a good job under impossible circumstances on the whole.

The SNP was expected to go left under Sturgeon and they did the opposite, with her ascension seeming to further embed people like Swinney, who, not trying to use the term too pejoratively, is a pretty classic Tartan Tory, backed up by Tasmina, a literal ex-Tory.

I think getting people who identify as left wing, especially young people, to support policies that are well outside of their natural milieu is going to define Scotland's future. Getting the overwhelming support of young people while opposing tax increases on people earning over £150,000 is a pretty big deal, and I think the ultimately outcome here is going to be that when the SNP wave breaks, which it will, Tory policies and by extension the Scottish tories themselves are going to have been rehabilitated.

It's hard to get this across, but it is bizarre seeing people who have identified as left wing all their lives embrace the neoliberalism they resisted under Thatcher and Blair, and to really really go to bat for those positions on social media and in real life. It's funny that it took an attempt to shatter the union to finally cement that hegemony.

I have no suggestions for Scottish Labour really. They're doing a lot of the things I would want them to do (and their manifesto was surprisingly and refreshingly light on aping nationalism) but to no obvious gain. I think perhaps the only thing to do is go back to basics and really shore up their links with unions, and to rebuild trust by standing with workers wherever they can, and to put their focus on things outside the Scottish parliament. Official opposition or no, the parliamentary games are pointless right now.

Anonymous said...

Re Phil's comment (number 3)

Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) is the CWI affiliate who were in Sheridan's Solidarity but split away from it in March 2015 (a). This was over Solidarity's decision to "lend" their votes to the SNP in the May General Election. SPS are now in the TUSC (as elsewhere) and are standing candidates under that banner. The Scottish Socialist Party are part of the RISE coalition.

As for Wales (where I live).

Ukip are still on track to get 7-9 seats throughout the Regional List votes. This system means that despite a Party getting most votes, they might not get any seats on the List due to their getting too many Constituency seats.

For example South Wales Central has 8 Constituencies (mainly Cardiff) and Labour won all of them in 2011 (b). In the Regional List Labour won won 85,445 votes, Tories (45, 751) Plaid (28,606) and LibDems (16,514). Due to the maths involved, the List seats ended up as Tories (2), Plaid (1) and LibDems (1).
For more on the maths see here(c).

So, rather than waste a vote, you have to vote (to my mind) for a Party which is best placed to beat Ukip and the Tories on the Regional List. Many I know are voting Green for that reason.

London may be what is on most Labour minds but we are about to face 5 years of seeing Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless making a comeback in Wales.

John R

(a) http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13206123.Solidarity_faces_breakaway_over_Tommy_Sheridan_s_support_for_SNP/

(b) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Wales_Central_(National_Assembly_for_Wales_electoral_region)

(c) http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2016/04/20/ams-in-wales-explained/

asquith said...

Do you take a particular stance on the police & crime commissioner elections?

Phil said...

Yes. Vote Labour.